How I Learned to Provide Service without a Service Desk

Amber

I have been giving service without a desk for more than five years at CCRI.

One of my first jobs was working at the service desk at a retail store. I really only have one real clear memory of working there besides that in the training video someone said they lost their finger because their wedding ring got caught on a shelf. So…you know it must have been a meaningful job. Standing behind the service desk was unpleasant most days. People were usually nice, but our interactions were mainly, “this didn’t fit” and “okay, $10.79 will go back on the Visa.”

One of my first few days, a man who had disabilities entered the store. My coworkers, including my manager, groaned. “He’s back,” one said. Another told me, “he keeps trying to return that bike, it looks like it’s 15 years old and it’s worn out. Of course it isn’t working well anymore.” My boss dismissively told him there was nothing they could do for him and that she didn’t think the bike was purchased at the store. It was clear this was a routine: he tried to talk, he got shut down, he left.

My days passed and became one big blur of “this didn’t fit” or “my son bashed this into a wall one stinkin’ time and now it’s destroyed!!! I WANT MY MONEY BACK!” and “my remote control dragonfly is lost, I think it’s the manufacturer’s fault because it flew away too easily” …I guess I do remember more than I thought.

The man with the bike appeared a few more times. My coworkers dismissed him each time, and I felt too timid to try a different approach. I thought about him and thought of what I could do when he came in. The next time he came in it was a quiet, rainy day. I was voiding out expired products, which was the thrill of my lifetime. I realized I didn’t need to have an elaborate plan, I just simply needed to listen. He looked surprised when I stepped out from behind the desk. Our conversation wasn’t really going anywhere, I could see how my coworkers didn’t know what to say.

Original artwork by David (one of the people I’m honored to support)

“What is wrong with your bike?”

“It’s broke.”

“What’s it doing?”

“It’s broke.”

“Does it make a clicking sound?”

“Broke.”

I made sure he could see that I was engaged in the conversation and that I cared. I crept down beside the bike. It was filthy, and I could see my boss’ eyes roll as she spotted a trail of dirt along the floor. I couldn’t believe how easy the problem had been but no one had looked. The back tire was flat. That was all. I had assumed it was something to do with the brakes, the gears, the pedals, anything but that. I told him, “you just need some air in your tire.”

He repeated it, “Oh? Air in the tire.” I had a fifteen minute break coming up so I asked him to stay. When it was time for my break, I looked over and he was gone.

I put the bike pump from my parent’s house in my car and waited for him to come back. A couple weeks had gone by but sure enough, he was back. Luckily, it was quiet and so I asked someone to cover the desk while I ran out and put air in the tire. He watched and smiled. “Does that look better?” He nodded. I asked if he wanted to do some victory laps around the parking lot to make sure the air held. It did. I walked back inside and got looks from my boss. She asked to talk to me and I got a verbal warning for leaving the store during my shift. “That man wasn’t your responsibility, that wasn’t in your job description” (which…I mean, it kind of actually was, because I was giving SERVICE). I stated that and it didn’t go over very well. I was deemed, “sassy.” But I wasn’t trying to be. I quit shortly after that incident and I have never looked back.

I never saw that man again, but now I work as a caregiver at CCRI, and I receive positive feedback for the very things my previous job had seen as negative. I feel this man and his bike were a step in how I found myself, and a reminder of what service to others really is—sometimes it is being the only one willing to listen. He wasn’t trying to, but fixing his muddy bike helped me more than it helped him. I can give service without a desk and I am learning to look beyond the surface to meet people’s needs. And truly, we all have a flat tire, we just need one person to see it.

Amber Lobdell

Amber Lobdell has been a caregiver with CCRI for the past five years. She is overjoyed to have a platform to share stories from the heart. Amber is also a painter and a lifelong Dr. Pepper lover. She lives in Fargo with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.

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